Beautiful chicken, carrot and fennel salad.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and who am I to argue. I love a good bowl of steel-cut oatmeal to get me started, sure.

But I’d suggest that lunch is even more critical. A crummy lunch, unsubstantial and eaten in a hurry, is the surest way to trainwreck my afternoon. If I grab a bagel or a bowl of cereal, I’ll spiral into a carb crash around 2:00, and my mood and productivity go out the window. Give me a good lunch, one with protein, lively textures and happy flavors, and I’m set for the rest of the day.

This lunchtime salad recipe with chicken and vegetables is the perfect solution: fresh, bright, clean. Make it on Sunday and you’ll have lunch for a couple of days; this keeps well in a jar in the fridge so it’s super portable.

lunchbox salad with chicken, carrot and fennel

(makes 3 lunchtime servings)

1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 fennel bulb
3 large carrots
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted in a dry skillet and crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash and trim the end off the fennel bulb; cut the fennel in half and use the tip of a knife to cut out the tough inner core (it’s the dense triangular center of the bulb). Cut each half again in half lengthwise, then slice very thinly crosswise. Peel carrots, then using the peeler, cut into long strips; stack strips together and cut crosswise into 3-inch (or so) lengths. (Be sure to reserve your vegetable scraps to make homemade vegetable stock.) In a large bowl, combine chicken, fennel, carrot, fennel seed, oil, vinegar and parsley. Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve at room temperature.

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